With relatively little fanfare, Xcel Energy this week released its plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions under goals set by the Legislature last year. It wants to crank up the juice at the Prairie Island nuclear plant and add another 35 “dry casks” to store the nuclear waste.
As cranky as the global warming debate is in general, no other environmental issue in these parts has been more contentious in the last 20 years than the dry casks at Prairie Island.
Check out this description of the 1994 debate from a 2003 story from MPR on how little had changed in the intervening years:
“Even before the first meeting began, 83-year-old State Representative Willard Munger was overheard challenging 44-year-old Senator Steve Novak to a fistfight, because Novak accused Munger of wanting to shut down the Prairie Island plant,” (Capitol reporter Mike) Mulcahy reported. Novak was waste bill’s chief sponsor. As his bill struggled through endless committees, he argued that what NSP needed was time to ease itself away from nuclear energy. He said his bill would buy that time.
Anti-nuclear forces wanted the plant shut down when the utility — then Northern States Power — first asked the Legislature for permission to store the waste on site in 1994. After an administrative law judge denied the request, the Legislature — after a contentious debate — cut a deal to allow 17 casks (the utility wanted 48) with a deal that it would provide 200 megawatts of windpower and 75 megawatts of biomass by the end of 2002.
As soon as a national storage facility for radioactive waste was completed, the agreement said, the Minnesota waste would be sent to the site — Yucca Mountain in Nevada. That was supposed to happen in 1998. It never happened.
In 2003, the Legislature allowed the expansion to 48 casks.
In 1994, the Legislature thought it was setting the stage for the end of nuclear power in Minnesota. It hasn’t turned out that way. The percentage of electricity generated by Prairie Island in 1994 was 20 percent; it generates 20 percent of it now.
But maybe this is an issue with declining passion at the Capitol. At a hearing today on the issue, no legislator asked a question.